Andy Griffith Dies At 86

Television legend Andy Griffith, who became best known for the eponymous show in which he played small-town North Carolina Sheriff Andy Taylor, died in North Carolina today at the age of 86:

He was a vocalist, an actor, a stand-up comic, a producer and once even a schoolteacher, but we knew him best for creating the mythic Mayberry, a Camelot in bib overalls where home-spun wisdom reigned.

He was Andrew Samuel Griffith, but we knew him best as “Andy.” He died Tuesday at age 86 in Manteo.

“Andy Griffith means the world to the arts everywhere – not just here in Mount Airy,” said Tanya Jones, executive director of the Surry Arts Council, which oversees the Andy Griffith Museum there. “We are blessed to have known him. We will cherish his art, his music, his talent, and of course, our beloved “Andy Griffith Show.’ ”

“Andy Griffith. His pursuit of excellence and the joy he took in creating served generations & shaped my life. I’m forever grateful. RIP Andy,” tweeted Hollywood director Ron Howard, whose formative years were spent on the set of “The Andy Griffith Show” as Opie, the precocious son of the small-town sheriff Andy Taylor.

In the landmark series about family values that entertained millions in the 1960s and thrives five decades later in syndication, their father-son relationship was one of the few that wasn’t played just for laughs.

(…)

Griffith was born in Mount Airy on June 1, 1926, son of Carl and Geneva Griffith. He took a liking to music and learned to play the trombone at 16.

Despite a so-so academic record, he was industrious, earning enough money sweeping the high school after classes to buy a bass horn and guitar.

He went on to UNC Chapel Hill and majored in music, taking five years to get his degree in 1949. He taught school for three years in Goldsboro.

Lanky and handsome, his head thick with wavy black hair, he found summer work at the outdoor drama “The Lost Colony” in Manteo. Griffith played Sir Walter Raleigh from 1949 to 1953 and appeared on the dinner club circuit as a comedian and singer.

Motoring one evening in 1953 down pastoral N.C. 54 from Chapel Hill to an appearance in Raleigh, Griffith was struck by an inspiration that would ignite his career.

He dreamed up a comic monologue about a country bumpkin mystified by a game “where you try to run across a cow pasture without getting hit or stepping in something.”

It got big laughs and Griffith spun to fame on a phonograph needle.

“What It Was Was Football” sold a million copies. It got him on the Ed Sullivan show. And it established Griffith as a Southern comedic voice, leading to a role as the hillbilly recruit in the TV production of “No Time for Sergeants” and then the same role on Broadway, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award.

Even nearly 60 years later, that monologue still holds up:

From there, Griffith went on to Hollywood where he appeared in a number of films playing characters far different from the ones that he would become most famous for, such as “A Face In The Crowd” with Patricia Neal, but it was on television where his fame would come:

“The Andy Griffith Show” debuted on CBS on Oct. 3, 1960, attracting weak reviews and strong ratings.

It was the fourth highest-rated program of 1960 and throughout its eight-year run was never out of the top 10. In its final year, 1968, it finished as the No. 1 show on TV. The series spun off “Gomer Pyle USMC” and “Mayberry RFD.”

Even 50 years later, “The Andy Griffith Show” performs well in reruns despite its many black and white episodes, its dated Ford Galaxie patrol car and its operator-assisted phone system, all relics of an ancient technological age.

Griffith became a producer in 1972 and acted occasionally until 1983 when he was stricken with Guillain-Barre syndrome. He recovered and in 1986 produced the legal series, “Matlock.”

Through clever questioning and courtroom theatrics, Benjamin Matlock yanked innocent clients from the precipice of prison for six years on NBC, then moved to ABC for three more.

When Griffith won the People’s Choice Award for “Matlock” in 1987, he said the role of the folksy Atlanta attorney was his favorite. It offered the most range, he said.

“Ben Matlock was very vain, very bright, very cheap,” Griffith said in a 2003 interview. “He was a lot different from Andy Taylor.”

At least as far as most of are concerned, though, I would imagine that it’s as Andy Taylor that we’ll always remember him. The Sheriff who never carried a gun and always seemed to find the right answer to whatever problem was afflicting the small town of Mayberry. As this clip from the final years of the show, when it finally started airing in color, demonstrates it was also an era when police work was portrayed much differently on television:

That’s a stark difference from a show like Law & Order where the 4th Amendment often seemed to be viewed by the police as an inconvenience at best. Of course, things were much simpler in Mayberry in the 1960s than they were in New York City in the 1990s. So long, Andy.

FILED UNDER: Entertainment, Obituaries, Popular Culture, Quick Takes
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Rufus T. Firefly says:

    “A Face in the Crowd” is one of a handful of films that will get me to stop whatever I’m doing and sit down to watch whenever it’s on. “Lonesome” Rhodes is one of the best characters and performances ever put on screen.

  2. Franklin says:

    Well of course the first thing I see in the comments in the article on Yahoo is how he was a filthy liberal because he supported ObamaCare. So you see, he was on the wrong team and therefore we’re better off without him, right?

  3. Nikki says:

    From my childhood, the thing I remember most about watching “The Andy Griffith Show” is Griffith frequently had people of color on his show as background extras. It made Mayberry more like my own NC town of Spring Lake and, thus, more real for that long-gone 6 year old black girl.

  4. Anderson says:

    Is it true he’s already been buried? Is that a little weird, at least for a non-Muslim?

  5. Vast Variety says:

    Going to Miss Andy…

    One bit of trivia, the Mayberry sets were used several times during the filming of Star Trek, like in the episode Miri.

  6. wr says:

    @Franklin: A liberal? Andy Griffith? Not so much…

  7. James Joyner says:

    @wr: Griffith was a life-long Democrat and probably a liberal, at least by the standards of his age cohort.

    He always struck me as a decent fellow and certainly a great talent. He live to a ripe old age and had a great life. He left a hell of a mark.

  8. @James Joyner:

    Indeed he was. In fact, as I figured everyone would remember, he did a Medicare commercial in 2010 touting the changes that were coming with the PPACA. Sadly, though, as someone mentioned above, I’ve seem more than a few online comments today making stupid political comments because of that. A sign, I suppose, of our hyperpartisian world.

    @Anderson:

    People seem to be concluding this from a comment by the County Sheriff about him being “laid to rest.” Honestly, it would be odd for their to be a burial this quickly in any case and I’m thinking this may be a misinterpretation of what was said.

    The one thing I didn’t know until today is that Griffith was living on Roanoke Island.

  9. Nikki says:

    @James Joyner: Ron Howard, Andy Griffith and Henry Winkler did a Funny or Die campaign video in support of Obama that doesn’t appear to be online anymore. So, yeah, probably a liberal.

  10. sam says:

    @Rufus T. Firefly:

    “Lonesome” Rhodes is one of the best characters and performances ever put on screen.

    Prescient, that was.

  11. Anderson says:

    Burial confirmed:

    At the request of his family, Griffith’s body was lowered into a grave on the island at about 11:30 a.m. ET, according to a funeral spokesperson who declined to be name, citing the sensitivity of the matter.
    “It had been planned for some time,” said the spokesperson, who declined to reveal where on the island the body was buried.
    “This was the wish of his family.”

  12. Anderson,

    In some sense, a very old-fashioned country tradition.

  13. Linda says:

    @Anderson: It isn’t at all unusual for people of the Orthodox Jewish faith which requires burial as soon as possible after death.

  14. Bill says:

    I’m a old tv show fan but I watched the AG show like twice ever. Matlock fared maybe slightly better. I think i watched that show like 4 times.

    That said I loved No time for Sergeants and also remember AG wonderful guest star appearance on Hawaii Five-0. A father-mother-teen daughter group of con artists pay a visit to the 50th state. Very different Five-0 fare for the most part but excellent nevertheless. Carol Burnett was supposed to play AG’s wife but for some reason didn’t do it. Joyce Van Patten instead guest starred in an episode that also featured Harold Sakata(Odd Job in the James Bond movie Goldfinger) in his only 5-0 appearance.

  15. Franklin says:

    He was apparently buried about 5 hours after his death somewhere on the island he called home. That was planned in advance of his death. Why, I don’t know, but it’s fine by me.

  16. @Franklin:

    The island in question would be Roanoke Island, the destination of the famed Lost Colony.

  17. @Linda:

    Fair point, but Griffith was not Jewish. I don’t know the reasons for this decision, but it was apparently his wish and that’s fine with me.